Yangguan, Yadan (or Yardan) and Yumenguan

Dunhuang Travel Blog

 › entry 10 of 17 › view all entries
the reconstructed fort at Yangguan is in a desolate place
I woke up somehow before sunrise, looking out the window, I could see the sand dunes of Mingshashan getting lighter. I decided to go up to the rooftop cafe and see what kind of sunrise we would have today. With camera and tripod, I went up to the rooftop. The temperature was pleasant, not too cold and not the wind was calm. I took several photos of Mingshashan sand dunes, and waited for the sunrise. Then I took several more photos. It was not as spectacular as I had hoped, but it was nice. Several Japanese tourist also made it to the rooftop for some photos.

Then I had to get my breakfast and met Gudrun, Marina and Dagmar, with whom I was to spend the day there. I had the chef make the beef noodle because he was actually pulling and making the noodles right there from a lump of dough! It was a small portion and was good.

the gate at Yangguan, and the remains of the beacon tower in the background
I have been quite happy with the food in the hotel, and their prices are reasonable too. Breakfast was included in the room price, so that's just icing on the cake.

I had to check out of the room and packed my bag already. After leaving my bag at the hotel luggage storage, we boarded our taxi about 8:30 for our tour for the day. Leaving Dunhuang on the west side, we could see more sand dunes going west, eventually it ended and we saw mountains where the West 1000 Buddha Cave was. We also passed the movie set called Dunhuang old city, which was used for many movies, but since I had not seen that many movies I probably would not have recognized anything from the movie set.

the gate at Yangguan
We also drove past a reservoir, which had water from snow melted from Qilian Shan.


Then we turned to Yangguan, it and its campanion Yumenguan were started by Wudi from Han dynasty as the western boundary of China. So there were severa famous poems about these Guans, with people feeling vey sad about going west of them because they were leaving their families and friends behind and going into unfamiliar and hostile territory. I had read that all that's left of Yangguan was the base of a beacon tower, so nothing too exciting, just a visit to a name in history. But this place turned out to have a lot to offer. First we saw a reconstructed city wall, which contained the ticket office. We bought tickets at 50RMB each. Inside we found a guide waiting, she spoke English.

Inside the Yangguan fort, 2 very nice museums and English interpreter too.
She took us inside the courtyard where there was a statue of the general Chang Chen from the Han dynasty. He was a famous person in history in his adventures to the wesst, being sent as an ambassdor to get allies to defend the Han against the Mongolians. However, he was captured by the Mongolians right away, and kept captive for 2 years before he escaped. He continued west and went to modern day Uzbekzstan, however, people there were living in peace and had no interest in allying with the Han to fight the Mongolians. Chang Chien returned via Xin Jiang and along the way learned about the geography and people of the west. He was again captured by Mongolians before returning to ChangAn (Xian now), but this time he was able to escape after only 1 year. He eventually returned to ChangAn after 13 years in the west! The emperor Wudi was still in power (he reigned for almost 50 years).
The German ladies and I at Yangguan
His mission being a failure, but he learned valueable information about the western part of modern China. Wudi decided to make a route and develop the west, so he established 4 counties along the Hexi corridor, Wuweu, Zhangye, Chiuchuan, Dunhuang, and built the forts at Jiayuguan, Yumenguan and Yangguan. The silk road had thus be offically opened.

A famous Chinese poem mentioned Yangguan described what it was like during the Tang Dynasty, "A light morning rain at Wei City (an old name for Yangguan) washed off the dusts, at the Inn the willows were new with green, I advise you to have another cup of wine, west of Yangguan you will have no acquaintances."  So going west of Yangguan was considered to be a pretty extreme act of going into the unknown territory.

Statue of Chang Chien at Yangguan museum

渭城曲
渭城朝雨浥轻尘,客舍青青柳色新。
劝君更尽一杯酒,西出阳关无故人。

on of artifacts, signs in Chinese and English, and free English speaking guide. You could easily spend a couple of hours in the two exhibit halls. We had spent too much time already, so breezed through the hall on the silk road itself, and went out the back gate to see the ruins. At the back gate, one can reenact the old customs office of getting your passport (which you buy and they wrote in Chinese caligraphy your name and date, for 35RMB) and a soldier in costume inspects and I had my photos taken with him.

dance performance at Yangguan, we did not stay for the entire dance, they were disappointed
Then outside the gate, one can either walk, hire a horse or take the shuttle to the ruins. We opted to ride the horse (40RMB each), and I had a kid guiding the horse on foot in front. I had a small Mongolian horse, but Gudrun had a taller Arabian one, which got spooked when she flicked her coat in front of his face, and started to jump. It happened very fast so I had no time for photos, but it would have made a good one! She was alright, and didn't fall off. We proceeded to the ruins without further incident. Talking to the kid on the way, I found out that he was only 15 years old, and had left home somewhere near Lanzhou to find work. He got swindled 1000 RMB to be bussed here, and was paid 10RMB per day for his labor. He lived in a hut next to the horses. He said he is saving some money and wanted to go to school nearby.
re-enacting going out of Yangguan, the man was writing my name on the "pass"
American kids had it so easy.

At the ruins, there was a good view of the snow capped mountains to the south. Nearby was the Antique Beach where once people were able to collect pieces of old potteries and perhaps find valueable antiques, but now it's not allowed.

There was a reconstructed military camp here too, but we didn't do much than just walk through it. Near the museum they also had a big souvenir shop, where a bottle of water went for 10RMB! where elsewhere you could get it for 1, 2 or 3 RMB.

We were running late,, it's past noon, since we had a lot to see and far to go still. So we went back on the road. and head for Yadan. We passed Yumenguan on the way but would stop on the way back. The distance between Yangguan and Yumenguan was 90km of desert, really not much, but there was one oasis where farmers grew grapes, melons etc.

Re-enacting going out of Yangguan, the guard checked my "pass"
The road was paved, and I was told by a privately owned company, which operated the scenic spots of Yumenguan and Yadan. At Yumenguan you pay 40RMB ticket, per person basically a road toll.

Then there was some road construction, but nothing as bad as we had on the way to the 7-1 Glacier in Jiayuguan. We arrived at Yadan at almost 2pm. Here they had constructed a big building and some dormitories for the workers. We bought tickets, 50RMB entrance fee, and 20 RMB for the tram which you had to take to see the park.

We boarded the open air tram and a guide came along, but she did not speak Englislh, so I had to translate. Yadan was at the bottom of a dried up lake bed. The soft sediments in layers were eroded by the wind and water over the years, and created the towered formations.

scene from the movie Hero starring Jet Li, shot at Yadan Geological park!
The ground looked like pavements from a distance, but was covered by mostly black pebbles of the Gobi desert. A few centimeters down was just yellow sand, which was held in place by the heavier pebbles. The formations looked like various things according to your imagination. There was one looking like a stone lion at the gate, another one looking like a peacock, other bigger ones looking like a cathedral or a Monoglian home, the sphinx, a fleet of warships, etc, etc. We stopped at a few choiced ones and took photos, and at the peacock which was almost at the end of the tour where we were given 30 minutes to walk around. There was a vendor selling rocks and medicinal plants found in the desert. Parts of this park were used in the movie Hero (Jet Li was in it) and supposedly the newest movie where Jet Li and Jackie Chan co-starred.
Gudrun on a horse in Yangguan
The landscape was very fantistic, if we had more time, we could have rented 4WD jeeps to explore further, or take a camel ride, but we didn't have that much time. Also it would have been a lot more impressive for lighting if we had come at sunrise or sunset. It would have meant getting up at 4pm to come over, and we didn't quite feel up to that!

We left around 4pm and headed back to Yumenguan, the Han dynasty Great Wall fragments, where a group of Chinese tourist had just finished some picnic or event there, so it was more crowded than elsewhere we had been today. The Han great wall was just a small section of a wall, looking more like a wall than a great wall. The layers of reeds and stones used to build it can be seen easily. At different parts of China, the Great Wall was not really one wall, but made at different times and using different materials and methods.

On my horse going toward the remains of the beacon tower at Yangguan, seen at upper left of the photo
This was a very ancient section.

After about 10 minutes, we headed over to Yumenguan, where the corner of the city gate was still there.There was a rock there enscribed with the famous poem about Yumenguan,

凉州词
黄河远上白云间,一片孤城万仞山。
羌笛何须怨杨柳,春风不度玉门关。

which basically said that the scenary here is one lonely gate and many tall mountains (which were far away), the foreign flute player doesn't need to blame the willows for not growing, because the wind of spring does not go past Yumenguan.

Still, not a lot to do here so after about 10 minutes or so, we went back to the car and headed back to Dunhuang.

near the beacon tower at Yangguan
We got there about 6:30. The 3 German ladies are styaing another night and offered to let me use their room to shower and change before I had to head over to the train station. That was very nice of them, I felt much more human after freshening up and said goodbye to them on the rooftop cafe where they were enjoying a nice drink.

Then I went to town in the hired taxi to meet Phil, Julia and Hannes at their hotel at 7pm. We all piled into the taxi and took our 130km drive to Liuyuan, where the train for Turpan departs. Supposedly the train would be coming into Dunhuang in June, but not yet. We saw some black hills along the way, looking like they had a lot of iron. There were also many mining and materials factories in Liuyuan, so I suppose iron is plenty here.

I had negoatiated 150RMB for the 3 German ladies tomorrow night for their taxi to Liuyuan train station so we split the rest for the days of touring in Dunhuang, 550 RMB divided by 4 people, they could have the taxi take them on short trips in town too but they opted not to bother.

a horse and the herder at Yangguan, we rode the horses to the top of the small hill instead of walking, to save time, and also to sort of re-enact the old days

At Liuyuan, we found the nearest restaurant and went in to have a quick dinner. Phil looked at the menu and said all the dishes were kind of expensive, above 50, so I asked if they had cheaper dishes. They had just simple noodles and some vegetables and stir fried dishes for 10 per person, and I ordered a whole chicken, the noodles were OK, large quantity, which Julia was able to finish to my amazement. Our train was about 10:28pm, and it arrived a few minutes early. We had separate cars, so I boarded my car and found the sleeper bunk, which was jusst vacated by someone. However I was able to get clean pillows and blankets from the upper bunk which had not been used. This train had come from Zhenchou almost 24 hours ago, and the neighors in the same room were there for a day already! I suppose the policy is not to change beddings just because people left or boarded in the middle of the route.

A stone saying this was the old site of Yangguan
This bunk did not have the area below the bed open, so I had to leave my suitcase on the bed. I could have had it hefted onto the top luggage rack but I thought it was easier to just leave it on the bed. I settled down and went to sleep. It's not the most comfortable for sure, but it's not the worst either, and I was able to get some sleep and woke up about 5am.

worldcitizen says:
Vietnamese trains are the same way, they don't always give you new sheets if someone just left your bed!
Posted on: May 28, 2008
portia says:
thanks! the history is really the point of the place.
Posted on: May 27, 2008
cvanzoen says:
Wow, great blog. You tell it in a way I feel I'm almost part of it.
Posted on: May 27, 2008
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the reconstructed fort at Yangguan…
the reconstructed fort at Yanggua…
the gate at Yangguan, and the rema…
the gate at Yangguan, and the rem…
the gate at Yangguan
the gate at Yangguan
Inside the Yangguan fort, 2 very n…
Inside the Yangguan fort, 2 very …
The German ladies and I at Yangguan
The German ladies and I at Yangguan
Statue of Chang Chien at Yangguan …
Statue of Chang Chien at Yangguan…
dance performance at Yangguan, we …
dance performance at Yangguan, we…
re-enacting going out of Yangguan,…
re-enacting going out of Yangguan…
Re-enacting going out of Yangguan,…
Re-enacting going out of Yangguan…
scene from the movie Hero starring…
scene from the movie Hero starrin…
Gudrun on a horse in Yangguan
Gudrun on a horse in Yangguan
On my horse going toward the remai…
On my horse going toward the rema…
near the beacon tower at Yangguan
near the beacon tower at Yangguan
a horse and the herder at Yangguan…
a horse and the herder at Yanggua…
A stone saying this was the old si…
A stone saying this was the old s…
the sign saying this is the site o…
the sign saying this is the site …
the sign and the remains of the be…
the sign and the remains of the b…
The ruins on the left, and the new…
The ruins on the left, and the ne…
View of Yangguan museum, camp comp…
View of Yangguan museum, camp com…
on the way back from the beacon to…
on the way back from the beacon t…
this is a wild horse being broken …
this is a wild horse being broken…
kid on a horse at Yangguan
kid on a horse at Yangguan
the reconstructed military camp at…
the reconstructed military camp a…
the reconstructed military camp at…
the reconstructed military camp a…
the reconstructed military camp at…
the reconstructed military camp a…
at Yadan geological park, a rock l…
at Yadan geological park, a rock …
soft sandstone formations at Yadan
soft sandstone formations at Yadan
the stones look like boats or isla…
the stones look like boats or isl…
the stones look like boats or isla…
the stones look like boats or isl…
the sphinx
the sphinx
large desert landscape at Yadan an…
large desert landscape at Yadan a…
Marina and Dagmar at Yadan sphinx …
Marina and Dagmar at Yadan sphinx…
the stones look like buildings and…
the stones look like buildings an…
the phoenix rock at Yadan
the phoenix rock at Yadan
small person in large landscape
small person in large landscape
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
Black Gobi sand, small pebbles on …
Black Gobi sand, small pebbles on…
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
the fleet at sea formation at yada…
the fleet at sea formation at yad…
looks like a large fleet, doesnt …
looks like a large fleet, doesn't…
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
yadan geological park
the leaning tower at yadan geologi…
the leaning tower at yadan geolog…
a strange formation at yadan geolo…
a strange formation at yadan geol…
this one looks like a cathedral to…
this one looks like a cathedral t…
Han dynasty great wall near Yumeng…
Han dynasty great wall near Yumen…
the big tour group preceded us tow…
the big tour group preceded us to…
the remains of Yumenguan
the remains of Yumenguan
scenery at Yumenguan
scenery at Yumenguan
scenery at Yumenguan
scenery at Yumenguan
scenery at Yumenguan
scenery at Yumenguan
The poem I quoted was engraved on …
The poem I quoted was engraved on…
Yumanguan
Yumanguan
Yumanguan
Yumanguan
Yumanguan
Yumanguan
On the road to Liuchuan train stat…
On the road to Liuchuan train sta…
Dunhuang Sights & Attractions review
The historic Yangguan (Yang Pass) and a wonderful museum about the Silk Road
Yangguan 陽關 was established as one of the gateways on the Silk Road to the West territory 西域 almost 2000 years ago. There is only the bottom o… read entire review
Dunhuang
photo by: Deats